Countries with the best work benefits for expats

  • group of happy employees
Published on 2024-04-08 at 14:00
When you accept a new job offer abroad, it's not only the salary that matters; benefits matter, too. Relocation assistance, flexible/remote working provisions, healthcare coverage, paid time off, and childcare benefits – all of these can make a big difference in how easy it is to adjust to life as an expat worker. 

A good benefits package can be crucial for expats' integration

A good benefits package is important for every worker. However, for expats, some elements of this package are particularly essential. This is because, unlike locals, expats might not yet have a strong social network and safety net in the country. For instance, they might not have family members and old friends there who can help with childcare and moving houses – they have no choice but to pay for a babysitter and a relocation service. And if the fees for these services are high in the host country, it would be best if the expat's employer could cover at least part of the cost. 

Tuition reimbursement for children can be an important one, too. There are barriers to enrolling expat kids in public schools in some countries – and private schools can be expensive. In China and Saudi Arabia, for instance, language barriers prevent expat children from being able to enroll. Furthermore, all students in private Saudi schools are expected to be Muslim and to attend gender-segregated classes; this might not work for non-Muslim expats and expat parents who want their children to socialize with all genders. Private school fees are expensive in both countries, generally ranging between US$3,000-50,000 per year, so it's useful – or even indispensable – to get some tuition fee reimbursement from one's employer.

The flexibility to work remotely at certain times of the year might be essential for expats who need to return to their home country regularly to see their families. Quite many expats are in long-distance relationships, need to visit aging parents regularly, or are even parenting children living in another country (called “satellite parenting”).

Denmark has one of the best life-work balances worldwide

The OECD ranked Denmark as its second member country with the best work-life balance, after Italy. In Denmark's case, great work benefits partly account for this work-life balance.

All employees in Denmark are entitled to 25 days, or 5 weeks, of paid annual leave. They can also take all five weeks consecutively between May and September. In many other countries, paid leave tends to hover around 20 days per year. For instance, it's 20 days in the UK and 22 days in Spain. The US is notoriously the only advanced economy with no federally mandated minimum of paid leaves. 

Employees do not have to wait until they've completed a year on the job to start using their paid leaves. They accrue 2.08 days of paid leave for each month worked. So, even if someone has been working for only 2 months, he/she/they can take 4 paid days off.

There are no salary deductions in case of sick leave. Danish employers will pay 100% of your sick leave for 30 days. After 30 days, the municipality in which you work will take over the responsibility of paying you your full sick pay. 

Maternity and paternity leave are gender-equal in Denmark. In many countries, the non-existence or quasi non-existence of provisions for new fathers exacerbates gender inequality. Not only do fathers miss out on precious moments with their newborns, but mothers are also forced to do nearly all of the domestic labor around childcare and have to neglect – or even drop out of – their careers.

In Denmark, each parent, regardless of their gender, is entitled to 24 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child. One parent can transfer up to 13 weeks of his/her/their leave allowance to the co-parent if they live together. After a legal amendment in 2024, single mothers can now also transfer up to 27 weeks of their leave to a close family member (e.g., sibling, parent) who is helping them with childrearing.

What about flexible work? Denmark created a special category called Fleksjob. It is a system that provides job opportunities to people whose physical health (e.g., chronic illness), mental health, or social situation prevents them from having a regular job. Via their municipality, they can find jobs that allow them special work conditions, such as working from home full-time or reduced work hours. How about other employees, i.e., those not in Fleksjobs? The Nordregio Report 2024 shows that 35% of employees in Denmark work in a hybrid or remote format. This ranks somewhere in the middle when compared to other countries. 

However, one work benefit that stands out in Denmark is the protection given to former employees and the unemployed. They can receive unemployment benefits as high as 90% of their former salary for as long as 2 years. This depends on some conditions, of course, such as participating in an unemployment insurance fund for at least 1 year while working. Fresh graduates do not need to meet that requirement: as long as they join an insurance fund right after graduating (even with no paid work experience), they can receive unemployment benefits for 1 year. For expats, there is a language barrier to this. They usually need to meet Danish language requirements to receive the benefits, although there are some exceptions to this rule. 

Other countries of Northern Europe have very family-friendly work benefits

Norway, Sweden and Finland also all provide excellent work benefits that make it easy to have work-life balance. Let's look at paid leaves first. This doesn't include public holidays. In Finland, all employees are legally entitled to a minimum of 35 paid leaves per year (of course, your specific employer can decide to even increase that!). In Norway, it is 29, and in Sweden, it is 25. 

These countries also lead when it comes to paternity leave or gender-equal parental leave. Sweden, for one, offers 480 days in total to new parents. They are paid in flexible tiers of partial pay, with the highest tier being 80% of the salary. The parents can choose how to split these days among them, as long as each one doesn't get more than 240 days. The importance given to paternity leave has even led to the coining of an endearing term in Sweden: “latte papa,” for men in their 20s-40s who are seen pushing their babies in prams in the streets and in parks while holding a coffee (from their coffee shop stop along the way!).

How about Norway? There, fathers get either 15 weeks off at 100% pay or 19 weeks off at 80% pay. For mothers, it is 12 months. As for Finland, starting from 2021, all parents (of any gender, biological or adoptive) are entitled to 160 days of leave each. Furthermore, each parent can transfer up to 63 days of his/her/their allowance to the other partner.

Post-pandemic, Finnish law has adapted itself to the growing popularity of hybrid work. In 2020, Finland updated its Working Hours Act to facilitate flexible working arrangements between employers and employees. For instance, now, employees are allowed to save 4 hours of “flexitime” per working day. This means that they can shorten any working day by 4 hours and replace these missing hours another time. They can collect up to 60 hours of flexitime. The act also allows employees to save overtime as time off at any other later date. A study by Owl Labs (“State of Hybrid Work 2023”) found that nearly half of all employees in Finland have hybrid working arrangements. It is around the same percentage (40%) in Norway.

In Norway, flexible working is organized around the idea of “kjernetid” (“core hours”). Between 9 and 3, workers are expected – in most cases – to be at the office. However, as from three in the afternoon, they can work from home. According to the Norwegian Working Environment Act, employees also have the right to request flexible working arrangements as long as it doesn't cause significant disruptions. Employees with children under the age of ten are also legally entitled to request a part-time work schedule, although the employer can still turn down that request if they have a valid reason for a refusal.

As for Sweden, Forbes found that half of all vacancy descriptions offer hybrid working arrangements. This flexibility makes it easier for women and older employees to remain in the workplace. Indeed, the NGO AGE Platform Europe reports that close to 90% of people aged 55-65 still work in Sweden. Most importantly, many do so for non-financial reasons like job satisfaction and socialization with colleagues. This percentage is high even for older women. 

Australia boasts of many statutory (i.e., mandatory) work benefits

The National Employment Standards (NES) of Australia mandate a series of work benefits that all employers must give to all of their employees. Although, of course, they can also provide more benefits than just these!

In some countries, employees cannot take paid leaves until they've completed 6 months to a year at the job. In Australia, this is not the case. Workers start accumulating paid annual leave as soon as they start working. These are calculated by the hour, and they can start using them as soon as they've accumulated a single hour – even while they're still on probation! Employees are entitled to a minimum of 152 hours of paid annual leave per year. After a year, this is the equivalent of 4 weeks.

A full-time working week is defined as 38 hours in Australia – not 40 or 45 hours. After 38 hours, all employees are required by the NES to pay their employees an overtime rate. In comparison, in the US, it is only after 40 hours that workers can claim an overtime rate. In the UK, there is no legal requirement to pay employees more for overtime.

How about flexible working arrangements? According to the Fair Work Act, any employee who has completed 12 months on the job is allowed to request flexible arrangements like work-from-home, split shifts, and changes to their finishing time. Even part-time workers can request that. The employer can only refuse if they present a solid case against – they cannot simply say “no.” In the event of a dispute, the employee can even contact the Fair Work Commission to resolve the dispute. The employer will not be able to go against a decision of the commission.

The NES also requires all Australian employers to provide a retirement/pension fund for their employees (although the employee can opt out of it). This is called superannuation. By the time the employee retires, he/she will usually have between AU$200,000 and AU$400,000 in this employer-sponsored fund. 

Are expats eligible for superannuation? Yes! The system does not differentiate between residents and non-residents. However, you must think well before deciding if this is a good choice for you. If you are young and plan on staying in Australia for only a few years, having a pension fund there does not make much sense. If you plan on retiring in the country, then it is very useful. Double tax treaty arrangements between Australia and your home country are also important to consider. In the absence of a treaty, your home country will likely double-tax your Australian pension fund, which might not be financially to your advantage.